May 12, 2013
We spent the better part of the past week trying to make the dashboard and console covers look good. Or, you know, better. This has been a lot more time-consuming than we originally thought. We had imagined covering up aluminum panels with wood veneer wouldn't be much different than covering them with shelf paper. Cut the material close to the right size, peel off the backing and stick it on, get rid of the bubbles, then trim with an x-acto knife. Shouldn't take more than an hour or two.
A couple of things, though. First of all, wood veneer is not shelf paper. You can't cut it with an x-acto knife, at least not without risking serious injury, or worse, damage to your project. Veneer is way tougher than you might've thought. Not because of the wood. The wood is only 1/32" thick and will splinter like matchsticks if you bend it too far. It's the backing. They call it paper, but it's not like any kind of paper we've ever seen. It's more like flexible steel. Except it's not all that flexible.
I can understand why they use it. The backing keeps the thin wood from splintering like the aforementioned matchsticks. Unfortunately it also makes cutting and trimming the veneer an all-day job. After you stick the veneer in place, you trim it as close as you can with a utility knife, and then spend the next hour or two sanding the rest of it away. The wood sands away faster than the paper, but eventually the backing succumbs to the sanding block and ends up as small scraps of paper and paper dust on the floor.
And there's another problem. If you veneer only the top of an aluminum sheet, it's hard to hide the fact that the sheet is not actually wood, because you can still see the shiny aluminum on the sides. It's a dead giveaway. Up until now we weren't sure how we were going to deal with that. We thought maybe some kind of paint product would be in order. But it turns out veneer is so tough that you can actually stick it on the sides of thin aluminum sheet, and trim it down to 0.10" wide with the sanding block.
This makes your thin aluminum sheet look like an actual sheet of wood. A thin sheet, but wood nonetheless. We thought that was a pretty cool feature, so we wanted to do that with both of the console covers. The problem with that was, we not only had to trim the veneer edges on the top of the covers, but also on all four sides. Which turned a one-hour trim job into a five-hour marathon. For each cover. So we hope that goes a long way toward explaining why we didn't seem to get a lot done this week.
But the covers looked great, and we wanted to do the same thing for the dash, and also the glove box door, but the gap between the door and the hole in the dash was only about 1/16", and 1/32" veneer on each side would close that gap to about 0/16", which is possibly a little tight. So with the usual trepidation we tend to experience whenever we attempt to modify parts that took us a long time to build, we got out the hand files. We filed mostly just the door, because it's small and would be easier to replace when we destroyed it.
Luckily we didn't destroy it, and with the gap widened to almost 1/8", we went ahead and veneered the whole door, top, bottom, and sides. It came out looking pretty good, and you could almost believe it's made out of of wood, so long as you don't look too close. Or pick it up. We'll see if it fools anyone down the road. Right now the gap is still pretty large, but should be further reduced when we veneer the sides of the dashboard opening, assuming we can get the veneer to stick in there with the glove box in place. I'm sure it'll work.
The veneer is a little pale right now. When you order veneer online, it's not enough to let them know you want a wood finish. You have to pick a specific type of wood, what they call a "specie". We assumed that most wooden things were made out of oak, except maybe airplanes and baseball bats, so that's what we ordered. We actually got Red Oak, which is just like regular oak except with a touch of red. Hence the name. It's still very light in color, and will need some kind of stain finish in order to look like real wood.
We got a few samples of wood stains from our local Ace hardware store and tried them out on a scrap of veneer that we'd applied to our old glove box door. We liked the Mahogany stain, but we weren't sure if Mahogany is the color, or the type of wood you're supposed to use it on. Not that it should matter. You shouldn't get in trouble for using one type of wood stain on another type of wood. It's a free country. Anyway, we like the way Mahogany stain looks on Red Oak, so that's what we're going with. Don't tell anyone.
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